Financial life planning is a relationship profession. During this time of social distancing, I suspect I’m not the only advisor who is missing hugs from client families. The bright spot is that I have an opportunity to hug my 3-year-old nearly anytime of the day now. My daughter, husband and I are going on four weeks living, working and playing from home.
There is still connection. With our client families, my priority is to permit them to be honest. A pandemic + falling financial assets + an uncertain economy + the 24-hour news cycle + the inability to connect with friends and family as they traditionally do = an acute, stressful environment that inhibits the ability to step back and gain perspective. Our conversations revolve mostly around their mental well-being. If they want to go there, we talk about their portfolio and the preparation we’ve done in anticipation of a pullback. We focus on their income streams, the cash allocation for their short-term needs and the key role of diversification.
In our home, the three of us get to be together. Even after a decade of marriage, this new reality has given my husband and me better insight into one another. A deeper understanding of what each other does 40 hours a week; genuine empathy and a lot more laughter. Virtual happy hours keep me connected to girlfriends. We spend them supporting each other: the teacher who is adjusting to distance learning and the health care worker whose clinic has closed. I’m maintaining relationships with my Rotarian friends and tribe of professional colleagues through virtual platforms as well. This is a time to celebrate how technology allows us to stay connected.
There is guilt. Waving to our neighbors who are essential workers leaving for their shift, while we’re enjoying a picnic on the front lawn. I feel guilty about our fortune to work from home, and guiltier still for sometimes finding it overwhelming.
We’ve found a few ways to turn these feelings into something productive. We’re taking part in regular deliveries to the local hospital to feed physicians on the front lines. A few slices of pizza feels literally like the least we can do. My friend and I started the “Solo but Not Alone” Quar-Run-Tine, a virtual 5K/10K to support mental/physical health and our state food bank, raising a little over $1,200 so far. Small efforts in this time when many feel helpless.
There are unexpected silver linings. During a recent video meeting with a prospective client couple, my daughter awoke crying. My husband went to try to comfort her. I tried to keep a straight face. The call ended with a “Yes, let’s move forward,” followed by an empathetic “How old is your little one?” This stay-at-home environment immediately achieves something that many of us have been trying to do for years: It makes planners more human and relatable. It removes the stereotypes about what a financial advisor is. The client families who join us now have more insight into us as humans than ever before. In that way, this is a special opportunity.
There are difficult times. It took two or three weeks to get into a groove where I wasn’t working late every evening. This new environment puts those of us who are both parents and professionals into a unique position. We can never fully immerse in either title, nor can we ever fully shed them. Without some grace, that has the potential to convince us we’re failing at both.
Above all, there is hope. I hope that this unique time will fundamentally develop who we are. It has the potential to change everything, from the way we earn and spend our hard-earned dollars, to the priorities we make and the goals we set. I am hopeful that we can emerge from this not just healthy but also with a profound refocus on our core values and how we are building lives that support those values.
Brenna Baucum, CFP, has been an advisor with The H Group Inc. in Salem, Ore., for seven years. She is a trained financial life planner and was awarded the 2020 Outstanding Young Professional by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.